June, 2007
News in Brief
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Internet crime? The latest numbers


When it comes to crime, the Internet is like a Swiss Army knife — a multi-purpose tool that’s easy to use and highly versatile. That’s made crystal clear by the 2006 annual report just issued by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which shows how criminals used the Net to launch nine different varieties of fraud.

Highlights from the report include the following:

Overall totals:
During 2006, consumers filed 207,492 complaints. Complainants said they lost $198.4 million, the highest total ever.

Types of fraud:
Nearly 45 percent of the complaints involved online auction fraud —such as getting a different product than you expected — making it the largest category; more than 19 percent concerned undelivered merchandise or payments. Another pervasive scheme last year involved an e-mail threat of murder. Nine fraud categories were included in Appendix I of the report, including identity theft, investment fraud, cyberstalking, phishing, spoofing and spamming.

The perpetrators: Three-quarters were men. Nearly 61 percent lived in the U.S., with half in one of seven states. Other top countries included the U.K., Nigeria, Canada, Romania and Italy.

All over the map. But the report shows that the “average” complainant was a man between 30 and 40, living in California, Texas, Florida or New York. Individuals who reported losing money lost an average of $724; the highest losses involved Nigerian letter fraud, with a median loss of $5,100. Nearly 74 percent of the complaints said they were contacted through e-mail, and 36 percent complained of fraud through Web sites, highlighting the anonymous nature of the Web.

The IC3, a partnership between the National White Collar Crime Center and the FBI that opened in October 2000, serves as a clearinghouse for reporting cyber crime. Consumers who think they’ve been victimized can file a complaint on the IC3 Web site; valid complaints are referred to an appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agency. Even those complaints that don’t lead to further action help paint a picture of cyber crime trends.

The 2006 statistics don’t represent the universe of Internet crime, since they are based on submitted reports, but they do provide important insights for investigators and a benchmark from year to year. The idea is to help the government better understand the threat so it can better protect you.

Source: www.pueblo.gsa.gov.

Research finds thousands of leaking underground oil tanks

Research released by Environmental Data Resources, Inc. (EDR) shows more than 400,000 leaking underground storage tanks and more than 1,000,000 incidents of properties with known hazardous contamination spills have been reported in government records. The statistics were compiled from federal, state and municipal records by EDR, a provider of environmental risk information.

Many of the tanks identified in government records were buried decades ago and their existence is often unknown by the current resident.

The over 1,000,000 properties affected by chemical spills that EDR identified were all reported to federal, state and local agencies as locations where hazardous substances were released. These can be large or small events where pollutants, ranging from oil and gasoline to heavy-duty industrial chemicals, have been recorded by government agencies as property contaminants.

Because contamination is often the result of historical activities, it usually shows no visible signs of the dangers posed to residents through toxic air, water or soil. According to EDR, professionally prepared environmental risk reports are the only way to screen for these types of issues.

The company provides reports, subscription services and other solutions to help its customers assess and manage environmental risk. EDR customers include commercial and residential real estate.

For more information, visit www.edrnet.com.

Economists paint bleak picture of housing market
Real estate decline is a work in progress, according to forecasts (April 27, 2007)

It seems that no news is good news these days when it comes to the U.S. housing market.

The National Association of Home Builders hosted a Construction Forecast Conference that took a hard look at sobering market statistics while supplying glimpses of hope for a turnaround.

Eric Belsky, executive director for the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, said that home builders are “trying to pull out of a nosedive” by dramatically cutting back production rates. “They’re trying their damnedest to get out of this,” he said.

The unsold inventory had ballooned more quickly than anticipated, though, and single-family overbuilding is a key threat to house prices and starts, Belsky noted in his presentation at the conference.

Total housing starts this year are expected to drop about 15 percent, according to Belsky’s report, “A Preview of the State of the Nation’s Housing 2007.”

Single-family starts are expected to fall 19 percent, with new-home sales dropping 12 percent and existing-home sales down 0.2 percent this year compared to 2006.

“Beware a recession down the road,” the report cautions, and Phoenix, Las Vegas, Florida and Washington, D.C., are “bellwethers” for the housing market.

In the long term, the forecast calls for 2 million more households formed between 2005 and 2015 than in 1995-2005, second-home demand is expected to strengthen, and there will likely be a higher demand for replacement housing. But “affordability problems will act as a drag,” according to the report.

“House prices have only begun to correct,” according to the report, and, “they’re going to continue to correct until inventory is worked off enough.”

Thomas A. Lawler, of Lawler Economic & Housing Consulting LLC, noted in a separate report that the inventory of for-sale homes surged in 2006, “both from past excess building and from previous investors putting homes up for sale.”

Rising interest rates and a run-up in home prices led to a sharp decline in affordability, which led to softening prices and lower investor demand. A surge in delinquencies and foreclosures for “risky” mortgages, and subsequent credit tightening by lenders have also contributed to the downturn, according to the report.

Several indices have reported shrinking home-price appreciation and price depreciation in some cases, according to the report, citing sources including the National Association of Realtors, Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller and the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.

The Lawler report cited the home-price futures market operated by David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders, stated in an economic report released in April that a lopsided supply-demand for housing “has downside implications for house prices and has prompted downward revisions to NAHB’s forecasts of home sales and housing production for the balance of 2007-08. However, we’re still showing a gradual recovery process beginning around mid-2007.”

In a March survey of 400 single-family homebuilders, the association found one-third of builders reported that “tightening lending standards had taken a toll on their home sales in the early part of 2007,” Seiders reported, leading to an estimated median loss of 10 percent in sales volume.

“Our survey also showed that larger builders, as a group, had been more dependent on subprime mortgage financing than smaller companies in 2006, and relatively high proportions of the larger companies said that tighter mortgage lending standards had taken a toll on their sales volume early this year,” Seiders reported.

A follow-up survey in April found that 30 percent of builders reported rising cancellations as a result of the tightening in lending standards.

Nariman Behravesh, chief economist for Global Insight Inc., said in his housing outlook that he expects “a soft landing despite the housing recession” for the U.S. economy. The housing-market decline should extend into 2008, according to the report, and core inflation is expected to “hover around 2 percent, leaving little room for interest-rate cuts.”

Overall economic growth “will stay below trend through 2007,” Behravesh concluded in his report.

The “mortgage meltdown” will drop housing demand while increasing supply, and global investors “are in deep” in holdings of U.S. mortgage-backed debt, as is the U.S. banking system, according to another report by Mark M. Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Economy.com.

Glenn Roberts Jr., Inman News. Reprinted with permission.